Much has been made by some critics that the scheduled Iraq withdrawal is much less than meets the eye. Their points of criticism are that 50,000 troops will stay in the country, at a cost of billions more of US tax dollars, and there's no firm guarantee that they'll go packing, one and all, any time soon. The biggest criticism, though, is that President Obama fudged on his campaign promise to end the war and remove all troops from the country by May 2010. He made the promise more than two years ago during the campaign, and when he made it he was careful to note that he meant withdrawal of combat troops. By ending the war he meant ending American direct involvement in ground action. But many progressives and antiwar Democrats took his "end the war" pledge too literally; the nuances were either ignored, tuned out, or in a euphoric and wildly hopeful moment distorted.
The Iraq withdrawal by any measure is a solid administration accomplishment. The six year ground war with US troops taking casualties, inflicting death and destruction on towns and villages, and heavy collateral damage, i.e. civilian deaths, stirred international, and regional hatred of the US, and reaffirmed the US image as the bully boy of the world. The war was a colossal domestic and international disaster, and the mountainous lies and deception that Team Bush used to get and keep the US in Iraq will be a permanent mark of historical disgrace and shame on the Bush legacy.
The 50,000 or so troops that will stay in the country is unfortunate, but a necessity. The final withdrawal date of December 2011 spelled out in the US-Iraqi treaty for the 50,000 can easily be shaken by any number of events and contingencies, the worst one being, a full blown descent into factional religious or civil war in the country with the US forces caught in the middle. The troops are there supposedly to see that that doesn't happen and the training, intelligence and transportation and logistical support, supply for the Iraqi is intended to do just that.
But the remaining troops are at best incidental. Far more important is the political consequences of the withdrawal. The Iraq war was never simply a military contest to get rid of a hated dictator, in a country that supposedly posed a massive threat to Israel and moderate Arab governments. It was a political war waged to assert American political dominance, control strategic oil resources, to bolster the military hawk credentials of the Bush administration and to boost Bush's tenuous and sagging personal image and popularity on the home front. Obama understood that as long as the bullets, American bullets, flew at Iraqi targets, the US would continue to suffer the deeply flawed and failed political consequences of its overt military involvement in the country.
Obama also learned another lesson, a negative one, from Bush's Iraq folly. He did not declare "mission accomplished" with the withdrawal. The mission accomplished boast would be tantamount to declaring the war a US victory. To tout a war that should never have been fought and then fought for the wrong reasons, and in the wrong way, would be laughable and insulting, especially considering that according to an AP estimate more civilians were killed in Iraq in July than were killed in Afghanistan. But the crucial point is the death and mayhem Iraqi civilians still suffer there is being wreaked on Iraqis by other Iraqis, not US troops.
The Iraq war was an ugly and shameful page in US history. Obama early on recognized that, and recognized that millions of Americans were furious and frustrated by it, and that the presidential candidate who would do something to change that would be cheered by Americans. Obama deserves the cheers for that. For progressives who cheered him the loudest for pledging to get out of Iraq during the campaign, there's no reason to stop cheering him now for fulfilling that pledge in the White House. Obama's Iraq withdrawal is a great deal.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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